Painting the royal court

© National Portrait Gallery, London
Hans Holbein the Younger
after Hans Holbein the Younger | 17th century

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543) was born in Germany, and was the son of the artist Hans Holbein the Elder.

The younger Holbein is recognised as one of the finest painters of the 16th century, and his portraits from the reign of Henry VIII provide remarkable insight into the men and women of the Tudor court.

Holbein travelled to England in 1526. He quickly secured commissions from influencial Londoners, including from Sir Thomas More, who he painted in a solo portrait of 1527 and then the larger family portrait of 1527/8. In
1534, he painted Thomas Cromwell.

By 1536 (if not earlier), Holbein was working for the royal court. He produced a portrait of Queen Jane Seymour in 1536, and in 1537 he painted a magnificent dynastic portrait of Henry VIII, Jane, and Henry’s parents (Henry VII and Elizabeth of York).

This work was on a wall in the Palace of Whitehall, until it was destroyed in 1698.

After Jane Seymour’s death, Henry VIII employed Holbein to travel around Europe to paint portraits of prospective new wives, including the Duchess of Milan, and the German princesses Anne and Amelia of Cleves.

Holbein did not just work for the Tudors and their courtiers. He also painted all manner of noble people living in London, such as German merchants and French dignitaries, two of whom feature in one of Holbein’s most famous works, The Ambassadors (1533).

© The National Gallery
The Ambassadors
Hans Holbein the Younger | 1533

Holbein died suddenly, most likely of the plague, in Hans Holbein the Younger, self-portrait November 1543.

Six of the portraits in the exhibition are either Holbeins or later copies of his work.

The portraits which illuminate this chapter of Tudor history:


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